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Avoiding At-Home Dad Burnout
By Peter Baylies

My first few months with my newborn child were a breeze since John slept several hours during the day. During waking hours I had the peaceful stroller walks and easy trips to the grocery store where I was the center of everyone's adoration and affection---"Oh look at that father with his adorable baby," women would squeal. Despite many tough nights, I thought that if this was my new life, then it was going to be a cinch!

However, as the months went on I found myself grabbing freeze pops to get five minutes of quiet, then sticking John in his jolly-jumper to get 10 minutes more. As John started walking, I could still buy some time with a Tootsie Roll Lollipop but with his mobility, the top of every table was in danger. Everywhere I looked there was another Lego, matchbox car, a half-eaten cracker or a used baby wipe on the floor. Between the whining of the vacuum cleaner and from my son, I was starting to lose it.

When my second son David was born, there were more diapers to change, more dishes to clean and even more crying (which I didn't think was possible). With two babies, I would find myself running around to pick up after them, making sure they were safe, feeding and cleaning them as well as making dinner for my wife and trying to get my other day-to-day errands run. I distinctly remember the moment of no return-it was raining outside, the house was a mess, both babies were wailing and I did not know what to do. We had watched all the videos in the house at least 70 times, and I couldn't bring myself to put on yet another RugRats episode. I sat down on my couch and thought, "God, I need to get out of here." Trouble is I had no time to reflect on it because I had to clean the pee behind the toilet before my wife got home.

Watching for the Signs
"Some dads suffer in silence," said Dr. Bruce Drobeck, a marriage and family therapist from Dallas. "We may have more in common with at-home moms than the traditional working dad. The non-traditional lifestyle is a test of our marriage, and you really have to work together to make it work. At-home dads need individual time with the wife and time with the kids to balance out our new lifestyle." When the children are young you get the most stress at home since they are totally dependent on you. As long as the youngest child doesn't know enough to stay off the road, your brain is always working at some level; it's never really at peace. The only way you can get more is to allow yourself to take a "time-out." Of course with kids in tow and a diaper that needs to be changed at any time, you just can't. No matter how much you love them, you eventually need the time for yourself and begin to feel trapped and alone …which can be a warning sign of burnout.

Burnout is inevitable and it is important that you set up certain "escapes" for yourself to help deal with it. Again, it's important to be aware of how you are feeling and know when it's time to get out -whether it is for an hour-or for a weekend. Sit down with your wife and create a plan that will allow you to get out of the house on a periodic basis ---at least with a schedule, you can have something to look forward to when the days seem too overwhelming. Setting up a plan to deal with burnout may be as important for your marriage as it is for your own well-being. Alan Carroll of Brookline, N.Y. noted that his wife also suffers from burnout. "My wife works a lot and I think she is pulled between her work and her baby so when she is at home she feels so guilty that she has to spend more time with the baby. As a result she neglects herself for the baby, she needs to take more time for herself." Alan ended up buying a one-hour massage for her so that she could have that alone time.

He finds that the lack of time his wife takes for herself causes stress and arguments. "When I say I want to go out and do something on my own she will say, 'well don't we have to buy a car seat,' or something that might prevent me from taking time for myself. Then she will say, 'but that's OK, go ahead.' She plants that seed of guilt in my head that I am neglecting the baby. It's not like I am going to go to a strip club and pretend I am single and prefer that better. It's just that I know I need that time for myself. It gives me balance in my life and I know that makes me and the baby happy. The other day I was at a coffee shop with my daughter and I overheard two mothers talking, they were saying that they need their personal time at the local gym so they could have the energy to give to the children. I wish my wife had heard that conversation."

In talking to at-home dads the last 10 years I have asked dads what they have changed for themselves that made for a more stress free family. Below are 10 simple things that you can control to make the household a more pleasant and stress-free environment:

1. Talk to them and listen to them. When your kids know you are listening to them, it makes them realize their input matters and gives them a feeling of control and self-worth.

2. Treat them with respect. When you respect them, they will respect you back.

3. Give them lots of hugs and kisses. A feeling of being loved gives your kids a feeling of self confidence in themselves.

4. Show you love your spouse in front of your kids. Seeing mom and dad show affection toward each other gives them two role models to aspire by.

5. Allow kids to be self-reliant - Let them try things for themselves no matter how foolish it may seem to you (provided it's safe). For example my kids like to do experiments by mixing water with several objects and putting it in the freezer to see what happens. They couldn't wait to see what it would look like the following day. After a while, when we trusted them with the toaster, we encouraged them to make toast. (My oldest son is 12 and he is making a pretty good ham & cheese omelet now.)

6. Communicate with your spouse and agree on parenting styles - To avoid a public argument and mixed messages, make sure you and your wife agree on your child's behavior.

7. Get to know your kids' friends - As your children get older and a few neighborhood kids start to visit, listen to them and learn what they are like and how mature they are This will give you better judgment when they start asking to do more outside the house.

8. Don't expect too much but don't be a pushover - Pick your battles, some disagreements may not be worth the argument. If your child wants to walk to school without a raincoat, let him do it, and see if the consequences will help him make a better decision next time. But if you have a serious issue, stand by it.

9. Avoid yelling at them at all costs - Always discipline with reason not fear. When you don't like a decision or action your child is making, calmly ask them why they are making the decision. Have them explain what might happen; sometimes they will see why you might be right.

10. Create as much adventure as possible for your kids - Creating adventure, although it may not be a popular pastime for the moms, is one way that many at-home dads deal with burnout. This does not mean taking the kids skydiving or white water rafting. It is amazing what adventures you can find within a few blocks of your house. In fact, many dads find that every time they take their children out of the house it can be an adventure. Getting out of the house to do things together are important not only for your sanity, but are important bonding experiences and so many at-home dads have incorporated what they call 'field trips' into their weekly or monthly routines.

Peter Baylies is the author of the Stay-at-Home Dad Handbook. He also writes the At-Home Dad Newsletter at www.athomedad.com and has been an at-home dad for his two sons for over 10 years. You may purchase his book at Amazon.com. You may contact him at athomedad@aol.com His work has been featured or mentioned in the Boston Globe, the Christian Science Monitor, Men's Health, O, The Oprah Magazine, Parents, USA Today, and Woman's Day.

This excerpt is reprinted with permission from Stay-at-Home Dad Handbook (Chicago Review Press).

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